The impact of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) on siblings

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This page describes how some children might feel if they have a brother or sister with arthritis. It also gives tips on how to help your children manage their feelings toward their brother or sister who has arthritis.

Key points

  • Siblings of teenagers with JIA may feel various emotions ranging from guilt that they are healthy, to fear that they might also get JIA.
  • Talk to your other children about how they are feeling and make sure to spend time with each of them.

Once a child or teenager is diagnosed with JIA, a lot of time will likely be spent with them at appointments, perhaps in treatment, and making sure their JIA needs are being met. This may leave siblings feeling jealous of all the extra attention their brother or sister is receiving. Siblings sometimes find it hard to understand why there is little time left for them.

Other feelings siblings may experience include:

  • confusion about the illness
  • guilt that they are healthy
  • fear that they will also get JIA
  • pride in how their sibling copes

How to help siblings manage their feelings

Let your other children know that these types of feelings are normal. There are ways to help them cope with their brother or sister’s JIA.

Encourage siblings to get involved. If appropriate, include siblings in the exercise program with your teenager with JIA.

Provide roughly the same rules and expectations for both your teenager with JIA and their siblings. For example, find ways of adapting chores for your teenager with JIA so they can participate as a productive member of your home. This way, siblings will not feel that your teenager with JIA is getting special treatment. Your teenager with JIA will learn the same message of responsibility as their brother or sister.

EXAMPLE: Chris is a teenager with JIA, and Pat is his sibling. It is Chris’s turn to set the table, but carrying the heavy stack of dishes to the table is too difficult for Chris. Pat can carry the dishes to the table and Chris can finish setting it.

  • Allow siblings to openly discuss their feelings. Have them talk about their efforts and challenges in adjusting to having a brother or sister with JIA.
  • Help siblings understand the symptoms of and treatments for JIA. If possible, you might even want to bring siblings along to a rheumatology clinic appointment.
  • Make sure to spend some alone time with each of your children. This should be at a regular time that they can count on, even if it is a short time.
Last updated: January 31st 2017